One reason it's so important to embrace the safety and privacy of the individual when looking at social media is because the data can be so subjective. The data found on social media represents patterns of behavior that, when strung together, can create a holistic online identity of a person. However, in some cases the hiring team may not see the full picture. Someone who tweets crude things, for example, might be a comedian and the content is part of an act. While that doesn't mean the individual gets an automatic pass, any content you surface will need to be considered with due context and balance.
Whether you're new to social media background checks or have been implementing them for a while, here are seven of our recommended best practices on screening and analyzing social media data during a pre-hire background check.
Best Practices for Social Media Background Checks
1) Involve the candidate
Let people know that their social media profiles will be searched. Let them know their public facing social media will be examined, with proper disclosure and authorization. Yes, that means no more cyberstalking, no more incognito searches–let’s be honest and upfront.
2) Research with compassion
Don’t think of social media as pure grounds for termination, or a definitive reason not to hire someone. Think of it as additional, empirical data available about a person that can be used to start a conversation with the candidate in question. The individual will either have a reasonable explanation for what’s been found, or they won’t. Either way, people should always have the option to present contrasting evidence.
3) Take a standardized approach
Consistent practices are important in ensuring that everyone is examined under the same criteria, and that everyone has a fair chance regardless of race, age, creed, station, etc. Further, the point of using social signal data is to begin to understand consistencies in the patterns of behavior to make smarter, better and faster decisions. Ideally, companies will rely on this data less because they will start intuitively understanding what a “good” person looks like online. Two rapidly evolving technologies can support this intuition: artificial intelligence and machine learning.
4) Get executive buy-in
If an organization allows individuals to manually research patterns of behavior, then it will always be subject to the prejudices and proclivities of a single person. That’s problematic. Create an approach where leaders agree on what to look for, how to act on it, and make that an internal, crystallized social media screening policy.
5) Don't rely on social data alone
There’s no silver bullet when it comes to understanding a person. We’re the most magical and diverse creatures walking this earth, and we know it. Use social media data as a companion, not the ultimate arbiter of whom a person is.
6) Recognize the deep complexity of human behavior
Even a perfect model for picking up hints of terrorism in past behavior won't eliminate all future risks. Humans change behavior as often as they change clothes, and even the best screen can't keep every mosquito from getting through. Recognize the limits of data analysis and understand that the aim of social media screening is to bring risks down to acceptable and largely predictable levels.
7) Finally, compliance
If you’re doing social media background checks, there are a variety of important laws in place to ensure all participating parties are protected. Companies must maintain a consistent focus on job-related content to protect themselves and their potential hires. In the U.S., companies must remain EEOC and FCRA compliant, both for legal safety and out of fairness to potential hires.
If you don’t know the laws, find someone who does! Screening social media is not illegal or unethical if done correctly, but every company must apply best practices when screening candidates online.
Interested in more best practices for social media screening? Download our e-book on "The Legality of Online Screening" to hear one of the world's leading employment lawyers weigh in.
Disclaimer: Please note that the materials available in this post are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.